‘When it’s three o’clock in New York, it’s still 1938 in London,’ Bette Midler once said. Taken with the requisite mountain of salt, there’s some truth to her quip – while New York may not be ahead of every curve, it moves fast and dares you to keep up. It’s bold, brash and unapologetic about being, in the eyes of its fiercely proud citizenry, the greatest city on earth. For a visitor, there’s something reassuring about a city so sure of itself – at every step, it’s easy to feel like you’re in the midst of something important, even if you don’t quite know what it is.
As Christmas approaches, Londoners go into a variety of traveller modes. For some, cooling weather means an urge to ski. For others, cottages and log fires come to mind. But this is also the season for a dash across the Atlantic to see another great city prepare for snow (lots of it) and Christmas, perhaps do a spot of shopping and bar-hopping, and take in a few iconic sights and new openings. No one knows New York better than Time Out. Here’s what not to miss.
Post-millennial NYC has been indelibly altered by the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the newly opened 9/11 Memorial (enter at Albany and Greenwich Streets; +1 212 312 8800) offers a moving tribute to the victims. Two massive reflecting pools occupy the footprint of each of the Twin Towers; waterfalls cascade into the serene waters of the seemingly bottomless basins, and the names of those killed in 2001, as well as those killed in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, are inscribed on bronze panels around the perimeter of each pool. Entrance is free, but timed reservations are required via www.911memorial.org. An onsite museum is set to open in 2012.
Although the grid-bucking Downtown streets and the outer boroughs can get tricky, New York is easily traversed by foot. One of the best places for an urban ramble is along the High Line, an elevated train track that runs from the Meatpacking District up the west side toward Midtown, meandering past Chelsea’s gallery district along the way. The industrial relic has been reimagined as New York’s first elevated park, offering commanding river views as well as public art installations and landscaped pathways.
Another classic stroll is across the mile-long Brooklyn Bridge. There’s more reason than ever to make it all the way over these days, thanks to the redevelopment of Brooklyn Bridge Park (+1 718 222 9939). The waterfront area – with its piers, lawns and tree-lined paths – makes a fine place to spend an afternoon on the other side of the river, soaking up views of the Manhattan skyline and taking a whirl on Jane’s Carousel (+1 718 222 2502), a vintage 1922 spinner that has been restored inside an elegant glass structure.
Culture vultures can run themselves ragged at the Met and other world-class museums. But don’t miss the revamped New York Historical Society (170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way; +1 212 873 3400), opening on November 11. Much-anticipated upgrades include a children’s museum and new exhibitions such as ‘Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn’ which will explore the ties between the American, Haitian and French revolutions.
Eating & drinking
New Yorkers display cultish devotion to chefs, who enjoy rock-star status among the town’s legions of gastro-groupies. Leading the pack is David Chang, whose hyper-cool Momofuku Ssäm Bar (207 Second Avenue at 13th Street; +1 212 254 3500) opened in 2006 and continues to define the city’s ‘melting pot’ eating habits. Tuck into local charcuterie, veal sweetbread with Thai chillis and an addictive pork-belly steamed bun, then shout your inevitable plaudits over the rock ’n’ roll soundtrack. Afterwards, pop into the adjoining Milk Bar to sample delightfully low-brow treats such as birthday cake truffles and cornflake-marshmallow cookies from pastry savant Christina Tosi.
Gordon Ramsay has fallen out of favour in the Big Apple, but fellow Brit April Bloomfield hasn’t let the side down. You can’t go wrong with any of the Birmingham-born chef’s perpetually mobbed eateries. Hit the Spotted Pig (314 West 11th Street at Greenwich Street; + 1 212 620 0393) for a Roquefort-cloaked burger and other gastropubby fare; the Breslin Bar & Restaurant (Ace Hotel, 16 West 29th Street at Broadway; + 1 212 679 1939) for lamb-belly scrumpets and decadent guinea-hen terrines; and the John Dory Oyster Bar (Ace Hotel, 1196 Broadway at 29th Street; +1 212 792 9000) for perfectly shucked bivalves and revelatory seafood.
Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets; +1 212 229 2560) is a 42,500-square-foot temple to Italian gastronomy with a dizzying array of comestibles (salumi, focaccia, gelato), as well as six onsite restaurants, including a rooftop brewpub offering hand-crafted pints and impeccable sausage platters. Grab a glass of barbera from the central piazza bar and commence grazing.
Craft beer and cocktails dominate the booze zeitgeist. At Rattle N Hum (14 East 33rd Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues; +1 212 481 1586), 40 taps and two casks will get you up to speed on boundary-pushing brews from across the US, including locally made standouts (Sixpoint, Greenport Harbor) and aggressively hoppy IPAs from the West Coast.
Music & nightlife
Getting past the velvet rope can be tough at the high-octane hot spots in the Meatpacking District. Our best advice is: dress the part, pad your wallet and get there early. A less expensive (but no less rowdy) night out can be had by skipping the velvet-rope scene and party-hopping your way around more late-night hoods like the East Village and Williamsburg. The streets of the Lower East Side swarm with youthful revellers on weekends; you might start at the contemporary art gallery-cum-nightspot Gallery Bar (120 Orchard Street at Delancey Street; +1 212 529 2266) before descending to the subterranean Dark Room (165 Ludlow Street at Stanton Street; +1 212 353 0536) for first-rate DJs and dancing.
Downtown rock clubs like Santos Party House (96 Lafayette Street at Walker Street; +1 212 584 5492) and Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey Street between Bowery and Chrystie Street) tend to seethe with young and attractive crowds seeking out new music. Meanwhile, the bohemian West Village is still the place to find world-class jazz acts, at pedigreed haunts like Blue Note (131 West 3rd Street at Sixth Avenue; +1 212 475 8592) and Smalls (83 West 10th Street between Seventh Avenue South and West 4th Street).
Shopping & Style
While the hordes plunder the sales at mega-department stores like Macy’s and fight through Canal Street for touristy knick-knacks, you’ll want to get off the beaten track to nab the best finds.
Name brand shops line Broadway in Soho, but you’ll find more unique buys at the meticulously curated boutique Opening Ceremony (35 Howard Street between Broadway and Lafayette Street; +1 212 219 2688). Owners Carol Lim and Humberto Leon showcase American designers alongside both up-and-coming and established brands from other countries, creating a sort of globetrotting Dover Street Market. Of particular note are the exclusive collaborations – the duo have a knack for coaxing the best out of mass-market brands like Keds and Levi’s. The shop has a second location at the Ace Hotel (see 'Get packing' below).
Another burgeoning shopping area is in the Meatpacking District. Dominated by the wholesale meat industry in the early twentieth century – and, during the 1990s, a strutting ground for transsexual prostitutes – the area has now been colonised by fashionistas who soldier along cobbled streets in their Manolo Blahniks. It’s here that you’ll find the consumer playground of ‘Sex and the City’ fame, with high-end labels like Diane von Furstenberg and Tory Burch slinging their wares out of fancy storefronts.
The best place to pick up quirky, high-quality gifts is the Museum of Modern Art Design Store (81 Spring Street at Crosby Street; + 1 212 767 1050). The museum’s retail arm assembles an impressive array of contemporary furnishings and design-mag goodies, including sculptural vases, clocks, kitchenware and gadgets.
The respectably priced ‘medium’ rooms at hipster-luring chainlet Ace Hotel (20 West 29th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, +1 646 214 5742) – founded in Seattle by a pair of DJs – are outfitted with vintage furniture and original art. Doubles $209-$509.
If you tend to follow the Downtown flock instead of the tourist trail, The Standard (848 Washington St at West 13th Street, +1 212 645 4646) – André Balazs’s trendy Meatpacking District high-rise (pictured) – offers a non-stop party: guests can mingle with boisterous locals in the biergarten and sip champers in a giant Jacuzzi at Le Bain nightclub. Floor-to-ceiling windows cash in on views of the Hudson River or a Midtown cityscape. Doubles $265-$510.